Monday, August 27, 2007

Sinking Spring and the Death of James Holton

Part IV

This is the last of the installments on the story of Reverend Weed. - ALF

After causing a near riot in Waverly, the Rev. Edward Weed found a more receptive audience at Sinking Spring, an area where some residents had already joined a local chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS). In a letter to an abolitionist newspaper published in New York, Weed claimed that a mob had followed him from Pike county, but they had “found but little countenance among the citizens” in Sinking Spring. When the crisis, which Weed had predicted, came the Pike countians were chased out of Highland county by the local militia and then pursued by a posse comitatus. When all was said and done, when rumors of Weed’s lynching began showing up in the nation’s papers, one man lay in the grave and another faced charges of murder.

“When they [the mob] commenced their interruptions,” Weed would later explain, “they were promptly met by the authorities of the place and dispersed.” However, the anti-abolitionists rallied and came back the following day with greater numbers, “about forty strong, a dirty, shabby, and savage looking set.” Arrest warrants were secured and the local militia unit was called up to clear the mob before Weed’s second lecture was to begin. According to Weed, “as soon,” as troops “appeared in the village with guns our mobocratic gentlemen began to talk about home, and … soon ‘put out.’” Weed’s series of lectures proceeded and in the end he succeeded in starting a branch chapter of the AAS at Sinking Spring with about 40 founding members.

The militia was most likely raised under the authority of Col. Thomas Rodgers of the Highland County Militia, the first president of the Paint Valley Abolition Society, which had members in Ross, Highland, and Fayette counties. Rodgers had risen to the rank of major in the War of 1812 and was widely respected in the region.

Unlike any other anti-abolition riot I am aware of, the Sinking Spring mob is the only one in which arrest warrants were secured. Whether led by the Highland County Sheriff or the Brush Creek Township Constable, it appears a posse comitatus was raised, which pursued the warrants into Pike county.

Among those sought was James Holton, who, once found, resisted his arrest. Holton was thirty years old at the time, a father of nine children, the youngest having been born the previous year. Like many early settlers of the Lower Scioto River Valley, Holton was a native of Virginia, who moved to Ohio with his father at a young age. When his father died James Holton was orphaned at the age of sixteen – his legal guardian was Allen Trimble of Highland county. Trimble was one of the early leaders of the region, having served in the state house and senate, before becoming Governor of Ohio in 1826. Holton’s own children, after his untimely death, would also marry well, finding brides from families such as the Vanmeters and the Beekmans.

A member of the Sinking Spring posse, William H. Mitchell found himself in a deadly confrontation with Holton. In what appears to have been self-defense, Mitchell stabbed Holton in the gut with a large bowie knife, leaving a four-inch deep mortal wound. Holton was slow to die. He lingered on until the 25th of September when he finally died, whereupon a Pike County grand jury indicted William Mitchell for murder.

The case came before the Pike County Common Pleas Judge John H. Keith, who had recently been elected by the State Assembly to the post, after having served as the Assembly’s presiding officer. Judge Keith oversaw a brief trial, whose jury returned a verdict of not guilty. With friendly rulings by Keith, the jury found that Mitchell’s use of force was lawful.

That October, when the editor of the Chillicothe Gazette published his correction of the false reports of Rev. Weed’s lynching, he suggested that Holton’s murder may have been the confused origins of the report. Somebody had, in fact, died, but it was not Edward Weed. Somehow this news had gotten so twisted and turned around that a traveling agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society (Edward Weed) had been attacked and murdered by an angry proslavery mob of southern Ohioans. I’m not so sure that explains the rumored lynching of Weed.

Considering the mob actions in Waverly and Sinking Spring and the anti-abolition resolutions passed in Piketon, one can reasonably conclude that these rumors were purposely generated by anti-abolitionists who wanted to scare off any future visits by the Rev. Edward Weed, or any other abolitionist organizer, for that matter.

Friday, August 17, 2007

John I. Vanmeter and the Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions

Part III

Having been run out of Waverly by a mob, which had been led by James Emmitt, the Rev. Edward Weed traveled west on horseback, just over the line into Highland County, where he had arranged for another series of abolition lectures for the first week of August, 1836.

John Inskeep Vanmeter

Meanwhile back in Piketon, in reaction to Weed’s visit, a group of prominent community members called a public meeting to be held at the County Court House. According to an account of the meeting published in the Chillicothe Gazette, “a large and respectable meeting of citizens of Piketon and the vicinity” assembled on the 29th of July and chose John Innskeep Vanmeter to preside. Vanmeter was a Virginian by birth, who had been raised in a family of wealthy slaveowners. He was a graduate of Princeton University, a lawyer and former state representative in Virginia before moving to Pike County in the 1820s, where he settling on lands inherited from his father. Vanmeter had quickly emerged as a prominent leader of the local Whig party and was, at the time of the meeting, a candidate for the Ohio legislature in the upcoming fall elections. His victory that November of 1836 would re-launch his political career, which ultimately took him to Washington, D.C., as a US Congressman, representing a district that included much of the Lower Scioto Valley.

Vanmeter was given the job of selecting a committee to draft resolutions – and on this committee were among others, Abraham Chenoweth and William Reed. Abraham Chenoweth, one of the older members of the committee, was an early settler on what was then called Pee Pee Prairie, just north of Piketon. Chenoweth, it turns out, was the father-in-law of Dr. William Blackstone – Weed’s host in Waverly. But, he was also the father-in-law of one of the other committee members, William Reed. William Reed was the son of Judge Samuel Reed, who had intervened in Waverly to stop the mob from destroying the home of Blackstone and doing violence to Rev. Weed. William Reed’s mother, Rebecca Lucas Reed, was the sister of Robert Lucas, who was just then finishing his second term as governor of Ohio. These men -- the powerful and influential of Pike County – leading anti-abolitionists – were often related to each other, but also to some of the supporters of Rev. Weed and the American Anti-Slavery Society. Chances are that it was the family ties between the Reeds, Chenoweths, and Blackstones that enabled Judge Reed to negotiate Rev. Weed’s safe exodus from Waverly.

The committee produced and the meeting then adopted the following resolutions:

“Whereas, the subject of modern abolition has created, and is still causing great excitement in this State, particularly in the town of Waverly and Piketon, and the county generally, and viewing with regret the unwarrantable steps taken by certain enthusiastic abolitionists lately, to agitate the public mind on this subject by lectures, and by circulating pamphlets, calculated not only to disturb our peace and happiness as citizens, but, if suffered to proceed, will ultimately cause a disunion of this great and glorious Republic. Viewing, then, Abolitionism as one of the greatest evils, and tending directly to infringe the compact of our Federal Union, we cannot but look upon these infatuated zealots as the worst of enemies we have to fear in this day of our national prosperity.

1. Resolved, Therefore, that we, the citizens of Piketon and the vicinity, in council assembled, are diametrically opposed to modern abolitionism, and feel no desire to interfere with the concerns of the slave-holing States, and still less between master and slave.

2. Resolved, That we disapprove of the late conduct of certain abolitionists who have attempted to deliver lectures on this subject; also, we are determined to discountenance them in the circulation of inflammatory publications.

3. Resolved, That we do in the most unequivocal terms request all abolitionists to desist from visiting our towns for the purpose of delivering lectures, or circulating publications on the subject of abolition; and should they persist we will not hold ourselves accountable for the consequences.”

The last of these – the one about not holding themselves “accountable for the consequences” virtually authorized the use of violence if Edward Weed or any other abolitionist returned to Pike County. As far as the existing correspondence of Reverend Weed and other records indicate, neither Weed and nor any other agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society returned to Pike County. Dr. Blackstone would soon thereafter relocate to Athens, Ohio. James Emmitt would claim that Blackstone left after stating that he would no longer live “in such a damned intolerant community.”

The controversy surrounding Reverend Weed, however, was not over. The Piketon Anti-Abolition Resolutions appear to have encouraged some Pike countians to follow Weed into neighboring Highland county. At Sinking Spring, the Reverend would have his “crisis,” which he had predicted soon after he fled James Emmitt’s mob.